Intuit Wants Some Silicon Valley Street Cred

Intuit CMO Lucas Watson wants to give the financial services software company more name recognition among the Googles, Facebooks and Apples of the world.

And he’s well positioned to do so, considering he last served as Google’s VP of global brand solutions and innovations before he joined Intuit last July.

“As we start to stitch together our products within our ecosystem, the role of Intuit as a brand becomes super important,” he told AdExchanger. “And unlike Microsoft, PayPal and Google, we really haven’t built the Intuit brand at the same caliber as those other brands. I was excited to join Intuit to help define what Intuit was going to be.”

Intuit hopes to find similarities between customers using its products – QuickBooks, TurboTax, Mint and ProConnect – and to use data to improve personalization across that suite.

Watson spoke with AdExchanger about putting a fresh lens on Intuit’s portfolio, recent brand safety challenges and why growth needs to be a brand’s key KPI. 

AdExchanger: How are you bringing Intuit’s brands together?

LUCAS WATSON: Our cornerstone brands each serve a different customer need and segment. That being said, we’ve aligned as a company for the first time ever this last year. The Intuit ecosystem is anchored by one unified, personal identity.

In Silicon Valley, we’re surrounded by Google and Facebook, but our potential to build a really meaningful brand and world-class advertising is great.

How does “one Intuit” work? You want to unify your brands, but each caters to a very different customer.

You might have just finished paying your taxes, and if you are a photographer or a freelancer, we might introduce to you QuickBooks Self-Employed next year so you can keep better track of your mileage and your business vs. personal expenses. That cross-marketing and hand-off from TurboTax to QuickBooks comes with a handshake – or what we call a “brand-shake.”

It passes you through Intuit as the company behind all these experiences. If you go into our sign-on experiences in digital, you may start to notice Intuit saying, “We sit across these brands, and you can trust us to keep your data safe, protect your identity and provide you offers that are relevant.”

Why are you thinking about this unification now?

It only became possible with the cloud and machine learning. This wouldn’t have been relevant 10 years ago. We’re moving from a series of individual brands to a network of brands and Intuit is the piping, which makes that connection possible because we connect the data and information underneath.

Before Google, you were a marketer at P&G. How is selling soap or diapers different than selling financial services software?

The most obvious is: We are a software-as-a-service business, which is a different business model than selling Pampers or Tide. I might spend a year trying to convince you that QuickBooks is right for you, but once you say yes, we may be in a brand-user relationship for 10 years, and you have to take that relationship very seriously.

The dynamics of what you’re able to do when the commitment is more like being married than a transactional one-off. It fundamentally changes the nature of the brand relationship, pricing and product expectations. It’s a different skill set than when I sold Pampers.

intuitCan you give an example?

Working in Silicon Valley compared to P&G, you really feel this product-first mentality. There’s this belief that if you make a great product, you don’t necessarily need to do any marketing or branding. But as Facebook, Google and Apple have proven, brand advertising and marketing on top of a great product can build world-class brands.

Speaking of brands, you helped build big Google products, like Google Preferred for YouTube and Brand Safety Ratings. Thoughts on their recent brand safety snare?

When you see [numbers suggesting] that Facebook and Google account for somewhere between 70–80% of all online advertising, you start to ask yourself if [these companies] really want to erode customer trust, user trust, by being irresponsible in this space. They have tremendous pressure on them to be responsible.

I don’t think Facebook or Google are willingly trying to deceive the ad industry, but there are other pressures at play around freedom of speech and their mission to connect the world and make things useful, that are sometimes at tension with what some advertisers want.

Can you elaborate?

With the size and scale of the data on YouTube and Facebook, the number of ads and the move to user-generated [content] platforms, brands must realize this is not controlled television anymore.

I probably have more faith and belief in companies like Facebook and Google after working there, but the key thing is: Competition is real, and that water will seek its own level based on what the market reaction is or isn’t.

Every minute we spend arguing whether an ad was viewable or whether it show up in the right context is an important discussion, but it’s a little out of balance. I would tell you a far bigger challenge I see is that all brands in the consumer space are challenged with driving growth.

Interview edited for clarity and length.

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